Abolishing the Legislative Filibuster?

 

In Lecture 4 (see slides 42-45), we discussed the role of the filibuster in the US Senate. Between 2013 and 2017, the Senate voted to reduce the number of votes needed to break a filibuster against the nomination of federal judges, Supreme Court justices and executive branch nominees from 60 to 50. This has effectively eliminated the filibuster for nominees. Over the past two years, President Trump has pressed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to “to go nuclear” and do away with the ability to filibuster legislation, as well. To date, McConnell has resisted this, though the idea has support from other corners of the Republican Party, including from outgoing House speaker Paul Ryan.

What do you think of this proposal? What is the strongest case you can make for–or against–abolishing the legislative veto? Please draw from at least one external source in framing your response.

The National Popular Vote Plan

The 2016 presidential election marked the 5th time in US history–and the second time in the past two decades–that the person elected to the presidency failed to win the popular vote (see also 1824, 1876, 1888 and 2000). Popular sentiment for reforming the Electoral College to prevent such occurrences has waxed and waned over time. While some have called for the abolition of the Electoral College, the high bar for successfully amending the US Constitution to do so (⅔ majority vote in the House and Senate, plus ratification by ¾ of the states) makes this an unlikely outcome.

The Constitution, however, says nothing about how states must allocate their electoral votes. 29 states and the District of Columbia have laws in place requiring electors to vote for the popular vote winner in their respective states, but the penalties for ‘faithless’ electors who vote otherwise are minimal. 21 states have no legal requirements directing how electors should vote.

Since 2006, National Popular Vote, Inc. has advocated its National Popular Vote Plan to essentially strip the Electoral College of relevance in presidential elections without having to constitutionally abolish it. The plan calls for states to allocate all of their electoral votes to the winner of the nationwide popular vote, instead of their individual statewide popular vote. Consequently, if every state participated in the plan, whoever won the nationwide popular vote would win the Electoral College by a vote of 538-0. So, the Electoral College would still exist, but its significance would be dramatically reduced under this scheme (see additional resources pages on the National Popular Vote Plan from the National Conference of State Legislatures and Project FairVote).

As of July 2018, 11 states and the District of Columbia have voted to approve their participation in the plan (NJ did so in 2008; the most recent state to do so is Connecticut, in May 2018). Together, these 12 jurisdictions have a combined 172 electoral votes. If states with a combined 270 electoral votes (just over 50% of the total) approved the plan, then it would go into effect.

As you will discover with a bit of research, the National Popular Vote Plan has numerous critics. What are some of the possible pros and cons of adopting this plan? What arguments do you find (or not find) persuasive? Why?

INSTRUCTIONS: Respond to the prompt in the comments section of this entry. The strongest responses will draw directly from at least one specifically cited external source to inform their comments. Each student must draw from unique sources that another student has not yet cited, so there is a ‘first mover’ advantage in responding to this question in a timely fashion.

The Kavanaugh Supreme Court Nomination

 

On July 9, 2018, President Donald J. Trump nominated federal judge Brett Kavanaugh, 53, of the the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit to the US Supreme Court. Given the likely impact that his confirmation would have on the ideological composition of the Supreme Court (see image below), the confirmation process is likely to be contentious.

What does Kavanaugh’s prior history on the bench tell us about his particular philosophy of constitutional and statutory interpretation (note: refer to Lecture 6.5 for more on these interpretive philosophies). What kind of justice is Kavanaugh likely to be? How might his addition to the court impact how the Supreme Court rules on significant issues?

INSTRUCTIONS: Respond to the prompt in the comments section of this entry. The strongest responses will draw directly from at least one specifically cited external source to inform their comments. Refer to the class syllabus for more on how blog entries are evaluated. Each student must draw from unique sources that another student has not yet cited, so there is a ‘first mover’ advantage in responding to this question in a timely fashion.

Civics Education

Lecture 1 briefly addressed the recent ‘State of Civics Education‘ report prepared by the Center for American Progress. The report includes a ranking of the 50 states in terms of what they do or do not require of high school students in terms of civics education. Please briefly examine the summary of the report above, and see where New Jersey ranks when compared to other states.

Once you’ve done so, I’d like you to respond below to one of the following prompts:

  1. Describe your own experience with civics education. What was, or was not, required of you in high school?
  2. Go online and do a little research on civics education initiatives across the country. What do you find interesting? You could look at the work being done by organizations like iCivics, for example.
  3. If you were to design a civics curriculum for a school, what do you think should be emphasized more or less heavily?